Author Archives: Rita

U. S. Camel Corps

Few people know that the United States had a Camel Corps.  About 1836 Major George H. Crosman suggested to the United States government that camels could be used as pack animals in Florida during the Seminole Wars. Few persons in the government took this suggestion seriously but Senator Jefferson Davis was an advocate of this proposal and campaigned for it.

It wasn’t until 1855 that congress appropriated $30,000 to purchase camels. President Franklin Pierce gave his Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, the right to make the purchase and start the experiment. On June 4, 1855 Henry C. Wayne procured camels to be shipped to the USA. The camels arrived on the east coast of the USA in late January 1856 and were finally delivered by boat to Texas in mid May.

Camp Verde, Texas was the initial camp for the camel experiment. During the experiment the camels were utilized in several capacities. They would assist in surveying projects, serve as pack animals, and assist in the rescue of snow bound wagon trains. Most of the tasks that were attempted by the corps were successfully accomplished, usually quicker and with more ease than originally estimated. The camels proved to be sure footed on rocky terrain, able to cross hot desert sands and climbed mountains faster than other pack animals. They were able to ford rivers and showed themselves to be strong swimmers. Food and water supplies for the camels could almost be ignored as camels can go without food and water for days. When they did eat, any vegetation was acceptable to them. They also showed that they could withstand conditions that other animals could not tolerate such as long hot days in the sun, rainstorms and sandstorms and still continue to advance.

There were some disadvantages of the Camel Corps. The first thing that was noted was the terrorizing effect the foul smelling, odd looking, large animals had on the horses and mules. It was said that when the camels were first unloaded in Texas the horses and mules “went berserk”. This reaction was a mixed blessing. Indian ponies also avoided approaching them, making camel caravans safer than wagon trains. Another disadvantage was that US troops did not know how to handle this new animal. Specially trained handlers had to be imported along with the animals. While a camel is usually a docile animal it can be a very stubborn, aggressive animal. Camels can make mules look like obedient puppies. It can remember a ”personal affront” for a long time and just wait until he can get even. His way of getting even can be a bite, a kick or spitting green slime.

Lieutenant Edward Beale was the man put in command of the project and deemed it a great success. One thousand more camels were requisitioned by the army but the timing was wrong. A Civil war was threatening the nation. The southern states had formed the confederacy, electing Jefferson Davis as president. The union wanted to discredit Mr. Davis and direct monies toward the war effort, so the request was ignored.

The camels that were still owned by the army were sold, released or escaped to run wild. Feral camels were reported from time to time throughout the west and British Columbia until well into the 1900’s. The last sighting was reported in 1941 in Douglas, Texas.

From a paleontological perspective, it makes a lot of sense that camels would adapt themselves to conditions in North America—they originated here after all. Camels first appear in North America about 45 million years ago, and migrated to Asia and Africa about 7 million years ago. Then, like the horse, camels became extinct in their native continent at the end of the Ice Age.

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Shark Bites in the USA

The USA has the most reported shark attacks in the world. What could be the reason for this? Are Americans so well nourished that they taste better? Could be, but all the references I have read say that a shark attack is most probably an “accident”. The shark had mistaken the human for his more usual meal such as a seal or another fish.

One reason the United States is at the top of the list is that the U.S. has a very large combined coastal shoreline. Another reason is the increase of recreational marine activities, and recreational marine activities expose people to all aquatic dangers including shark attacks.

No doubt, a high level of reporting of attacks is also a factor. Not all coastal countries publish a complete record of shark attacks. Publishing such reports could adversely affect the tourist trade. In addition to the USA some of the other countries that have reported shark bites are Africa, Central & S Am, Australia and Pacific Islands.

In the U.S 60% of all shark attacks are reported by the state of Florida. California reports about 15%, this is closely followed by Hawaii. Most coastal states have at one time or another reported a shark attack. Most of the attacks are not fatal. Most of the attacks are done by a contact bite, then the shark swims away. The victim can be left with a maiming wound or deformity. Fatal attacks are mainly due to the bull shark, tiger shark, or the great white shark and the Oceanic white tip shark. (Pictures and information about these sharks can be found at Dangerous animals–Sharks). In recent years the entire east coast has had a growing problem with aggressive sharks. The reason for the increase is being researched.

Overall shark attacks are extremely rare – “Lightning strikes humans more often than sharks bite humans”. The International Shark Attack File reports that world wide there are 50 – 70 unprovoked shark attacks a year. The number of shark attacks is increasing because the human population is increasing and recreational use of the shark habitat, oceans and coastlines, is increasing. Even though there are 50 to 70 attacks a year the number of fatalities are low.

Wikipedia has a list of the fatal, unprovoked shark attacks in the US. The records start in 1779 up to the recent. The more recent records state the age of the victims and other information that is interesting reading and gives some explanation of the event. A summary of the records show that there were 13 deaths from 2000 to 2010. Three of the years, 2002, 2006 and 2007, did not have any deaths. The years 2001 and 2004 had 3 deaths each. So far in 2010 there have been two reported deaths due to shark bites, but the year is not over.

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Essential advice for starting a home aquarium

My granddaughter came to me yesterday and asked me to get her an aquarium. Before I could make such a promise I wanted to investigate what all was involved in setting up a fish tank.

As part of my investigation I decide that I need to review my knowledge and see what new advances the “experts” could teach me about the care of fish. I took my clip board and set out.

One of my first observations was the change in the sources of tropical fish. Years ago when I was keeping tropical fish there were many places to acquire small pets and fish. There was a time when many variety and dry goods stores, also known as five and dimes, had fish. The small stores have been taken over by today’s larger mini-marts, many of which do not have the personnel to care for live animals.

Today, fish can only be obtained from dedicated pet and pet supply stores. Some of these stores have general pet supplies, and a few specialize in fish and aquaria.

I visited three shops in my local area to get a feel for how knowledgeable the employees are. Two of the stores were general pet supply stores and one emphasized the aquarium. In all the shops the employees were eager to assist me, but of course the employee at the specialty store was much more helpful. The specialty shop not only knew about the fish and the equipment that I would need, she was eager to teach me how to set up a tank so that I would become a successful aquarist. Included in her advice was information about the various fish and how to pick fish that would result in a balanced community tank.

Basic items for a home aquarium:

  • Aquarium
  • Aquarium Stand
  • Hood/Light
  • Filter System
  • Filter Media
  • Aquarium Gravel
  • Heater
  • Thermometer
  • Fish Food
  • Supplemental Food
  • Bio-Boost
  • Gravel Cleaner
  • Books
  • Salts and water conditioner

Before any fish are purchased there should be some thought as to where the fish tank will be placed. The location of the tank will influence the size of tank to buy. Fish tanks can be purchased in 2.5 gallons to 150 gallons and larger. Even larger tanks can be special ordered or full wall aquaria can be installed but large fish tanks are probably not for beginners.

One important fact to consider when setting up an aquarium is the weight of a tank once it is set up. The water, aquarium gravel, aquarium hood, a filtration system, and all the cords necessary to operate the accessories could add up to a lot of weight. A five gallon tank set up can have a total weight of 45 lbs or more.   The home aquarist most often purchases a 55 gallon tank. An estimated weight for a 55 gallon fish tank would be about 500 pounds. Five hundred pounds of glass and water will require a very sturdy stable aquarium stand.

The size of the tank will influence the number of fish you should keep. The usual rule of thumb is one fish per gallon of water. This rule can be stretched in either direction depending on the breed of fish you select, and if you have a large fish tank. The larger the adult fish, the fewer fish per gallon. One of the factors that could have an influence on the number of fish kept in one tank is how frequently the tank will be cleaned. A crowded tank will need to be cleaned and filtered more often to prevent the pH of the water from rising too rapidly.

You can also get fish tanks in shapes other than rectangular. If you want to consider an aquarium of a unique shape be aware of the pros and cons. A multi-sided slender tank can add interest in the final effect of a display and show off the fish in a different way. However, it might complicate the cleaning of the tank as well as add expense for special equipment to set it up and to maintain.

Don’t forget that an electrical outlet should be somewhere near the proposed set up site.  Electrical power will be needed to power the filter, heater, and lights. The aquarium hood keeps the tank covered, which helps keep evaporation of the tank water to a minimum, and it also helps protect the fish from jumping out. Some species have a little too much energy for their own good.

Densely-planted tropical fish tank

Densely-planted tropical fish tank. View larger image to spot the happy fish!

Without a doubt a filtration system is essential. The filtration can be done by mechanical, chemical or biological methods, or a combination of these systems. Get as much information about each system before purchasing any system. Be sure you know what will be involved in cleaning or replacing the filter media.

Other pieces of equipment that you will need are a heater, a thermometer, and perhaps books for general information. Some additional items you might want to consider are chemicals such as aquarium salt—to help cure and prevent diseases; water conditioner—to remove chlorine from tap water; a bio-boost—to start the nitrogen cycle; and vitamins and minerals—to add to the general health of the fish.

Optional but recommended items

In for a penny, in for a pound. Now that you have gotten this far, here is another list of items to consider having:

  • Live Plants
  • Background
  • Rocks
  • Driftwood
  • Fish Net
  • Algae Scrubber
  • Ammonia Test Kit
  • Nitrite Test Kit
  • Nitrate Test Kit
  • pH Test Kit

The plants and decorations add interest and help keep fish healthy, and the testing kits are explained below.

How to set up the aquarium

Even new aquaria and equipment should be well rinsed with warm clean water before it is use. If an aquarium background (See article on aquarium backgrounds) is going to be used, it is easier to be placed on the tank before any water or decorations are added in the tank.

The tank should be placed on a level solid base away from direct sunlight. A sturdy aquarium stand is recommended to hold the weight and help prevent the possibility of a pressure crack.  With the tank resting in place, add rinsed aquarium gravel. (If an under gravel filter is used, place it first.)

Start filling the tank with lukewarm water by slowly pouring the water into the tank in such a way that it slides down a side before hitting the bottom of the tank. The purpose of this is to avoid displacing the gravel, and later the aquarium ornaments and filter. When the tank is ½ to 2/3 full, decorations, plants, and possibly the filtration system can be added. The decorations, plants, driftwood, and that sort of thing, adds interest to the look of the tank, but it also provides cover for the fish to hide in. Being able to hide helps the fish be less stressed, and they will live longer.

Continuing to add water with care will eliminate the need of reaching into the tank and repositioning the placements. When the tank is within 2” of the top add aquarium salt and water conditioner. Be sure to consult the package for directions.

Finish hooking up the filtration system. Place the heater and thermometer into the aquarium. (Follow the direction given with the heater.) Continue filling the aquarium with water to 1” of the top. Turn on the filter and heater, let everything cycle for at least 24 hours. Some adjustment to the heater may be necessary to keep the water at the desired temperature for the fish you intent to add. (Tropical fish 76-78 degrees and gold fish 70-72 degrees.)

After the tank has had the proper time to cycle, it is recommended that you test the water for the desired pH level for the fish you want to keep, and make any adjustments as needed. (Some additional information about pH can be found here). It is now, finally, time to add some fish to your tank.

It is recommended, especially for the beginner, to select fish species for their ability to withstand the nitrogen cycle. Some of the recommended fishes are Barbs, Swordtails, Danios, and some Tetras. A knowledgeable pet shop clerk can assist you in making the right selection. The first fish added to the aquarium will help establish a good nitrogen cycle.

Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen is the most common element in the atmosphere, and it is essential to all living things. However, most living things cannot get nitrogen out of the air on their own. The organisms that can, mostly bacteria, are called nitrogen-fixing. The cycle starts in your fish tank with the ammonia stage, when the fish give off urine and solid waste into the water. The ammonia would quickly build up in the water to levels that are toxic to fish. Fortunately, we have some helpers in the bacterial world.

Certain bacteria are able to convert the rising ammonia is nitrite, also toxic. But this product is converted with the help of another bacterium into nitrate. Nitrate is in a form that can be used by aquarium plants as a nitrogen food source. So, what the aquarium-keeper must do is to establish this process in the new tank.

Fortunately, the bacteria you need to grow in your tank are everywhere (in the air, water, etc.), but they need time to grow to suitable population levels in your tank to keep the ammonia levels down. This is why it is best to start with a few hardy fish that can tolerate initial rising ammonia levels till the bacteria really kick in. Testing kits can help you determine when this cycle is set up and in balance. Also, you will likely need to change out some of the tank water from time to time as another method of reducing ammonia levels.

This full process should take about 2 or more months, so do not get the most expensive fish right away. You may have some early casualties. With the nitrogen cycle established and the starter fish thriving it is time to add more fish to the tank. The size of the tank will determine the final number of fish. With the final number in mind a mixture if live bearers, schooling fish, catfish and algae eaters can be introduced into the community.

Adding varieties of fish serves more than just adding more fish to the tank. Variety adds to the interest of a tank and each variety can contribute to the health of the tank. As an example the catfish, one for every 5 gallons of water, are bottom feeders and will help consume the food that has fallen to the bottom of the tank. This in turn helps prevent the food from rotting and fouling the waters. The algae eaters, usually one for every 10 gallons, do just as the name implies. They eat algae and helps keep the algae controlled.

A well established aquarium will naturally do a lot to keep itself healthy. It will produce the bacteria that will help keep the nitrogen cycle active. Plants take up the nitrogen and carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. The fish will do their job of eating the bottom foods and eating algae. An aquarist must do his job of providing the final assist, periodic cleaning, and maintenance. But this rewarding hobby will provide you and your family with hours of enjoyment.

Related Posts:

Snails in an aquarium
Breeding fish in a home aquarium
More about egg laying fish
Live bearing fish in a home aquarium
Aquarium background
Crustaceans and larvae as fish food
Diverse food for aquarium fish
Aquarium gravel and water
Experiences in setting up a home aquarium
Aquarium Stands, what are the options and considerations?
Aquarium hoods
Fishing games—a sea of options

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Snails in an aquarium

There was a time when snails were thought to be necessary to have in a home aquarium. The idea was that the snail would clean up the fish droppings and the snail droppings were good for the plants. The plants in turn would give off oxygen that would help keep the fish healthy.

The reality is that the snails don’t eat the fish dropping, and the snail droppings add to the tank debris. Plants can utilize some of the droppings but the rest must be cleaned up by the filtration system. Plants do give off oxygen during the day, but the fish are not dependent upon that oxygen source if you have a good filter that is aerating the water.

The filtration system in the aquarium cleans up the animal matter and provides the necessary aeration to the fish tank. So what do snails do? They clean up excess fish food that would otherwise foul a tank. They help by eating some of the algae that adhere to the tank walls. They eat on the eggs of the fish, breaking them up but not consuming all of the egg before they move on to the next. Snails will also eat on the plants. Most of them usually do not eat the whole plant. They make holes in the plant, weakening them and disturbing the ambiance of the aquarium décor.

There are hundreds of snail species. The most common snails which are most likely to find their way into the aquarium as a stowaway on plants and live food is the Pond Snail. Most of them are prolific breeders. It is necessary to thin the snail population from time to time or they will consume the tank plants. The easiest way to thin the population is to crush them. Many fishes will eat the crushed snails and benefit from the live food.

Some fish breeders raise snails as a source of fish food. Not only will larger fish eat crushed snails, but the snails will help produce infusoria, a collection of tiny single-celled and multi-celled organisms that very small fish can eat. The Apple snails are a common group used to help start infusoria. The snails eat large quantities of plant material, such as lettuce. They produce a large amount digested waste that is a wonderful source of food for infusoria*.

*The use of infusoria was mentioned in an earlier posting.

Related posts:
Aquarium backgrounds
Breeding fish in a home aquarium
Experiences in setting up a home aquarium
Essential advice for starting a home aquarium
Aquarium gravel and water
Aquarium stands, options and considerations
There are many other fun interesting facts here at Boneblogger.

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Live bearing fish in a home aquarium

In several other posts we have looked at fish breeding. We learned about fish that scatter their eggs and fish that hide or anchor their eggs. Fish that harbor their young within their bodies are called livebearers. This group of fish sometimes harbors the eggs in the mouth of the parent and sometimes in the abdomen.

There are about 4 species and a couple of sub-species commonly that are used in a fish tank aquarium. Included in this group are Mouth-breeding Betta, Moffat’s, Gunther’s Cichlid, and Black-chinned Mouthbreeders. In this method of spawning, the female drops her eggs and they are fertilized by the male. Then the eggs are picked back up and kept by one of the parent fish in the mouth until they hatch. The mouth of the parent is not only an incubation chamber, but after the young hatch, a place of safety to dash into in case of danger. Watching the young dash for safety can remind one of people rushing into the New York subway during rush hour.

Many more species of common fish tank fish retain the eggs within their abdomen, and include more than 20 species and several subspecies. Some of the more common to a home aquarium are the Guppy, Molly, Swordtail and Platy. Some of these species will inter-breed in captivity. This knowledge has given amateur and professional breeders a field day in producing many variations in colors and bodies that would not occur in nature.

Animals that retain fertilized eggs within their abdomens are called ovoviviparous. Eggs are produced and then fertilized internally by the male as he swims along beside the female, and the fertilized eggs are carried within the abdomen until they hatch. (This is not the same situation as found in mammals. Mammals not only retain the eggs, but set up a nourishment system from the mother to the young through the placenta. Ovoviviparous species simply retain the eggs and do not provide a maternal nutrition source.). Additionally, in some species the female fish can retain sperm cells for many months and as many as 8 broods have been produced from a single insemination.

As a general rule a well-fed mother will not eat her young. This does not say that other fish in a community tank will not feed on the newborns.

Fries can be produced and survive in a community tank. However, if the expansion of your fish population is your goal, a properly setup breeding tank will give you better results.

Related Posts:

Breeding fish in a home aquarium
Crustaceans and larvae as fish food
Fishing games—a sea of options
Fishing as a pastime for you and your family
More about egg-laying fish

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